Abstract

This article offers a historical analysis of American interwar agricultural economists and their interest in information. Believing that the main problem facing farmers was a lack of information, agricultural economists designed an information policy aiming to produce, format, and disseminate information. Using administrative archives, the article analyzes the motivations of these economists and the implementation of this policy. As the article shows, the policy was a prerequisite for theoretical discussions about information, and it established institutional tools that are still used today, such as the USDA market news service.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.

References

BAE (Bureau of Agricultural Economics)
.
1923
.
Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
BAE (Bureau of Agricultural Economics)
.
1924
.
Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
BAE (Bureau of Agricultural Economics)
.
1928
.
Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
BAE (Bureau of Agricultural Economics)
.
1931
.
Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
BAE (Bureau of Agricultural Economics)
.
1933
.
Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
BAE (Bureau of Agricultural Economics)
.
1934
.
Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
Banzhaf, H. Spencer.
2006
. “
The Other Economics Department: Demand and Value Theory in Early Agricultural Economics
.” In
Agreement on Demand: Consumer Theory in the Twentieth Century
, edited by Philip Mirowski and D. Wade Hands.
History of Political Economy
38
(
supplement
):
9
31
.
Berdell, J., and J. W. Choi.
2018
. “
Clashing Analyses of Speculation and the Early Regulation of US Futures Markets
.”
Journal of the History of Economic Thought
40
, no.
4
:
539
60
.
Biddle, Jeff.
1999
. “
Statistical Economics, 1900–1950
.”
History of Political Economy
31
, no.
4
:
607
51
.
Biddle, Jeff.
2021
. “
Statistical Inference in Economics in the 1920s and 1930s: The Crop and Livestock Forecasts of the US Department of Agriculture
.”
History of Political Economy
53
, no.
1
:
53
80
.
Cooper, Thomas.
1929
. “
[‘Encouraging the Farmer to Take Agricultural Outlook Material and Use It’:] Discussion by Thomas Cooper
.”
Journal of Farm Economics
11
, no.
1
:
125
27
.
Craig, Steve.
2001
. “
‘The Farmer's Friend’: Radio Comes to Rural America, 1920–1927
.”
Journal of Radio Studies
8
, no.
2
:
330
46
.
Cronon, William.
1991
.
Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
.
New York
:
W. W. Norton
.
Davis, Joseph S.
1928
. “
Some Observations on Federal Agricultural Statistics
.”
Journal of the American Statistical Association
23
, no.
161
:
5
15
Didier, Emmanuel.
2009
.
En quoi consiste l'Amérique?
Paris
:
La Découverte
.
D'Onofrio, F.
2016
.
Observing Agriculture in Early Twentieth-Century Italy: Agricultural Economists and Statistics
.
London
:
Routledge
.
Ezekiel, Mordecai.
1938
. “
The Cobweb Theorem
.”
Quarterly Journal of Economics
52
, no.
2
:
255
80
.
Estabrook, Leon M.
1923
. “
The Use of Crop Reports by Farmers
.”
Journal of Farm Economics
5
, no.
1
:
28
35
.
Federico, Giovanni.
2005
. “
Not Guilty? Agriculture in the 1920s and the Great Depression
.”
Journal of Economic History
65
, no.
4
:
949
76
.
GFA (Grain Futures Administration)
.
1924
.
Report of the Chief of the Grain Futures Administration, 1923
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
Haas, G. C., and Mordecai Ezekiel.
1926
.
Factors Affecting the Price of Hogs
.
Washington, D.C.
:
US Department of Agriculture
.
Hamilton, David E.
1990
. “
Building the Associative State: The Department of Agriculture and American State-Building
.”
Agricultural History
64
, no.
2
:
207
18
.
Hart, Van Breed.
1929
. “
Encouraging the Farmer to Take Agricultural Outlook Material and Use It
.”
Journal of Farm Economics
11
, no.
1
:
108
25
.
Hoffman, G. W.
1937
. “
Past and Present Theory Regarding Futures Trading
.”
Journal of Farm Economics
19
, no.
1
:
300
309
.
Kunze, Joel.
1990
. “
The Bureau of Agricultural Economics’ Outlook Program in the 1920s as Pedagogical Device
.”
Agricultural History
64
, no.
2
:
252
61
.
Lenfant, Jean-Sebastien.
2017
. “
Early Debates on Quality, Market Coordination, and Welfare in the U.S. in the 1930s
.” HAL working paper. https://hal.science/hal-01763828/document.
Lininger, Frederick. F.
1929
. “
Market Information and the Farmer's Problems
.”
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
142
:
341
51
.
[Morecroft, John H.].
1923
. “
The March of Radio
.”
Radio Broadcast
2
, no.
3
:
179
86
. https://www.worldradiohistory.com/Archive-Radio-Broadcast/Radio-Broadcast-1923-01.pdf.
McDean, Harry C.
1983
. “
Professionalism, Policy, and Farm Economists in the Early Bureau of Agricultural Economics
.”
Agricultural History
58
, no.
3
:
373
92
.
Mirowski, Philip, and Edward Nik-Khah.
2017
.
The Knowledge We Have Lost in Information: The History of Information in Modern Economics
.
Oxford
:
Oxford University Press
.
Morgan, Mary S.
1991
.
The History of Econometric Ideas
.
Cambridge
:
Cambridge University Press
.
New York Times
.
1927
. “
Cotton Estimate Called Inaccurate
.”
October
1
,
1927
. https://www.nytimes.com/1927/10/01/archives/cotton-estimate-called-inaccurate.html.
New York Times
.
1928
. “
Blamed for Cotton Crash; Agriculture Bureau Held at Fault by Senators for 1927 Slump
.”
May
30
,
1928
. https://www.nytimes.com/1928/05/30/archives/blamed-for-cotton-crash-agriculture-bureau-held-at-fault-by.html.
O'Farad, Mike.
1922
. “
The Garden Island Radio Column
.”
Garden Island
,
December
12
,
1922
,
2
. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82015411/1922-12-12/ed-1/.
Preda, Alex.
2004
. “
Informative Prices, Rational Investors: The Emergence of the Random Walk Hypothesis and the Nineteenth-Century ‘Science of Financial Investments.’
History of Political Economy
36
, no.
2
:
351
86
.
Preda, Alex.
2006
. “
Socio-Technical Agency in Financial Markets: The Case of the Stock Ticker
.”
Social Studies of Science
36
, no.
5
:
753
82
.
Saleuddin, Rasheed.
2018
.
The Government of Markets: How Interwar Collaborations between the CBOT and the State Created Modern Futures Trading
.
Cham
:
Palgrave Macmillan
.
Santos, Joseph.
2008
. “
A History of Futures Trading in the United States
.” EH.Net Encyclopedia. Edited by Robert Whaples. https://eh.net/encyclopedia/a-history-of-futures-trading-in-the-united-states/.
Sterling, Christopher, and John Michael Kittross.
2001
.
Stay Tuned: A History of American Broadcasting
.
London
:
Routledge
.
Taylor, Henry C., and Anne D. Taylor.
1952
.
The Story of Agricultural Economics in the United States, 1840–1932: Men—Services—Ideas
.
Ames
:
Iowa State College Press
. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b3428532&seq=7.
Tolley, H. R.
1931
. “
The History and Objectives of Outlook Work
.”
Journal of Farm Economics
13
, no.
4
:
523
34
.
Tyler, Hannah.
2023
. “
In Numbers We Trust? A History of the US Department of Agriculture and Its Agricultural Surveys during the 1920s
.”
Histoire & mesure
38
, no.
1
:
39
64
.
USDA (US Department of Agriculture)
.
1915
.
Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture, 1914
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
USDA (US Department of Agriculture)
.
1919
.
Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture, 1918
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
USDA (US Department of Agriculture)
.
1923
.
Second Report on the Agricultural Outlook for 1923
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
USDA (US Department of Agriculture)
.
1926
.
Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture, 1925
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
USDA (US Department of Agriculture)
.
1927
.
Yearbook of Agriculture, 1926
.
Washington, D.C.
:
Office of Government Printing
.
USDA (US Department of Agriculture)
.
1930
.
Classified List of Projects of the Agricultural Experiment Stations
. Miscellaneous Publication 89,
US Department of Agriculture
. https://archive.org/details/classifiedlistof89unit/mode/2up.
USDA (US Department of Agriculture)
.
1942
.
Outlook Work: The First 20 Years
.
Washington, D.C.
:
US Department of Agriculture
.
Wheeler, W. A.
1923
. “
Down on the Farm in 1923
.”
Radio Broadcast
2
, no.
3
:
212
14
. https://www.worldradiohistory.com/Archive-Radio-Broadcast/Radio-Broadcast-1923-01.pdf.
Wik, Reynold. M.
1988
. “
The USDA and the Development of Radio in Rural America
.”
Agricultural History
62
, no.
2
:
177
88
.
Williams, Carl.
1929
. “
Continuous Economic Information Readily Available to Farmers
.”
Journal of Farm Economics
11
, no.
1
:
79
94
.
Working, Holbrook.
1922
.
Factors Determining the Price of Potatoes in St. Paul and Minneapolis
. Technical Bulletin 7528.
University of Minnesota, Agricultural Experiment Station
.
Working, Holbrook.
1925
. “
The Statistical Determination of Demand Curves
.”
Quarterly Journal of Economics
39
, no.
4
:
503
43
.
Working, Holbrook.
1926
. “
Practical Applications of Correlation Studies of Prices
.”
Journal of Farm Economics
8
, no.
2
:
227
44
.
Working, Holbrook.
1934
. “
A Random-Difference Series for Use in the Analysis of Time Series
.”
Journal of the American Statistical Association
29
, no.
185
:
11
24
.
Working, Holbrook.
1937
. “
[Futures Trading and Regulations:] Discussion by Holbrook Working
.”
American Journal of Agricultural Economics
19
, no.
1
:
309
12
.
Working, Holbrook.
1949
. “
The Investigation of Economic Expectations
.”
American Economic Review
39
, no.
3
:
150
66
.
Working, Holbrook.
1958
. “
A Theory of Anticipatory Prices
.”
American Economic Review
48
, no.
2
:
188
99
.